For many anglers, walking past the indoor fishponds at Bass Pro Shops is one of the greatest parts about shopping there. And while some of us might occasionally fantasize about what we’d do if the store was closed and the cameras were off, a young troublemaker in Fort Myers, Florida, took this fantasy to a criminal level on Dec. 20. He went over to the indoor pond carrying a landing net, scooped up a live tarpon with it, and then walked out of the store, according to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, the local sheriff’s office said detectives were working with state wildlife officers to try and identify the young man who stole the fish. To help with their efforts, the post also included a short video that a customer recorded on their phone Wednesday. It shows the thief walking toward the door with the silver king still thrashing in the net.
Because the theft occurred only four days before Christmas Eve, the Bass Pro Shops on Gulf Center Drive was full of other holiday shoppers at the time. One of those customers reported the theft to an employee, Chance Floyd, and they even brought Floyd one of the tarpon’s large scales that had come loose and fallen onto the floor. By that point, however, the young man had already fled the scene.
“I couldn’t believe it, honestly,” Floyd told NBC-2 News. “It was just so shocking to me that somebody would stoop low enough to do that.”
LCSO deputies also told the local news outlet that the young man had taken the landing net off one of the store’s shelves before he used it to steal the tarpon. They said he was accompanied by two others who were wearing GoPro cameras.
As they continue their search for the fish thief, authorities are asking for any information anyone might have about the incident. Southwest Florida Crimestoppers is also offering a cash reward for any tips that lead to the suspect’s identification or arrest.
If caught, the thief could be looking at other charges in addition to retail theft. Tarpon are a prized and highly-protected sportfish in Florida, and it’s illegal to pull a tarpon out of the water if it’s longer than 40 inches, according to FWC regulations. It’s unclear if this law would also apply to privately owned ponds in retail stores.